Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee said Tuesday he launched his bid for the White House because he believes his vote against the Iraq war sets up the best contrast with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE in the race for the Democratic nomination for president.
As a Republican senator in 2002, Chafee voted against giving then-President George W. Bush authorization to invade Iraq, while Clinton, then a senator, voted in favor. Clinton has since called her vote a “mistake.”
“That was the moment for good judgment,” Chafee said.
“I think it’s important for the Democratic Party to make this chaos in the Middle East a Republican chaos,” he added. “They were the ones that invaded Iraq and created all the problems we live with now…it was a colossal mistake and the ramifications we live with today are enormous.”
Speaking at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Chafee, who is languishing in the polls, declined to take direct shots at Clinton, but repeatedly sought to contrast his vote against the Iraq war with Clinton’s vote in favor.
“It was such a huge moment in American history,” Chafee said. “To take us back into another quagmire was a colossal lapse of judgment. I did my homework...but there was so much momentum. I came back from a meeting with the CIA and met with my [Senate] colleagues, it was like talking to marble statues. It was a moment in American history that defies logic.”
Chafee also referenced the “credibility issues” and “self-inflicted wounds” he said Clinton has absorbed amid revelations that she used a personal email account at the State department.
He repeatedly touted the “ethical standards” he said have been a hallmark of his political career, an apparent swipe at Clinton, who is dealing with polls that show a majority of the public doesn’t believe she’s honest or trustworthy.
Chafee dodged a question about whether he believes Clinton is honest and trustworthy.
“We’ll talk I’m sure of lapses of judgment, the electronic devices, possibly missing the classified and personal information on the devices, and the Clinton foundation donations,” Chafee said. “These are all subjects we should be talking about in the campaign in determining who is the best to represent the Democratic Party when the dust settles.”
Clinton’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, have largely shied away from directly attacking Clinton, who remains the prohibitive frontrunner in the race.
Chafee is in last place nationally in polls, according to the RealClearPolitics average, and barely registers in most surveys.
Chafee has visited the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire more times than any of his rivals for the nomination, but has failed to make inroads. According to a NBC News-Marist poll released over the weekend, he takes just 2 percent support in the Granite State.
“It’s my job to get traction. It’s just July and the first votes aren’t until February,” he said. “It’s a long way to go to get traction and make my case.”
Chafee said he’s running on experience as the only candidate to have served as mayor, governor and senator. Chafee was a Republican mayor and senator, and served as governor of Rhode Island both as an Independent and as a Democrat.
“I have a lot of work to do,” Chafee said. “The reality is that secretary Clinton has a huge head start with endorsements and money and the rest of us are scrambling. But I think I have the vision, ethical standards and ideas. There’s still more to be don on fundraising and organization, but it doesn’t discount what I bring to the table.”